An Unlikely Animal Welfare Ally
Just two days ago, justice struck a most unexpected blow on behalf of the animals and people at the mercy of America’s factory-farming system.
It happened in North Carolina’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, where two of three judges upheld an award against Hong Kong based Smithfield Farms, their American subsidiary Murphy-Brown and one of their pork producers, Kinlaw Farms.
Kinlaw had lost a 2012 lawsuit filed by its neighbors, who complained about the horrific smells and noise coming from its hog farming operation.
Given the Court’s makeup of:
Judge Stephanie Thacker – Obama appointee
Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III – Reagan appointee
Judge G. Steven Agee – George W. Bush appointee
Smithfield probably felt confident about a favorable outcome while preparing for the panel to hand down their decision.
Predictably, Judge Thacker rejected their arguments, writing that Kinlaw Farms “… persisted in its chosen farming practices despite its knowledge of the harms to its neighbors, exhibiting wanton or willful disregard of the neighbors’ rights to enjoyment of their property.”
By calling for a whole new trial, Judge Agee gave Smithfield (the world’s biggest pork producer) just what they wanted.
But the swing vote, Judge Wilkinson, swung further than anyone could have predicted. As a conservative, did he realize that his words would make him sound like a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) representative?
His judgement wasn’t limited to Kinlaw’s transgressions. Instead, he targeted the entire pork-producing industry, calling out the “outrageous conditions” that gave him no reason to believe were unique to that farm.
Then, with these precious words, Judge Wilkinson really spoke from the heart:
“How did it come to this? What was missing from Kinlaw Farms – and from Murphy-Brown – was the recognition that treating animals better will benefit humans. What was neglected is that animal welfare and human welfare… are actually integrally connected. The decades-long transition to concentrated animal feeding operations (‘CAFOs’) lays bare this connection, and the consequences of its breach, with startling clarity.”
He went on to describe the factory farms, where farmers force pigs into tiny enclosures and “… almost suffocating closeness. The dangers endemic to such appalling conditions always manifested first in animal suffering… however, the ripples of dysfunction would reach farm workers and, at last, members of the surrounding community.”
The appeal process had clearly introduced the honorable Judge Wilkinson to factory-farming’s shocking realities.
The court case was about the people who were neighbors of farm. He wasn’t required to share how he really felt about the animals treatment. He wasn’t required to verbalize what how we all feel when witnessing these atrocities in PETA documentaries.
But he did it anyway!
Animal welfare isn’t a one-sided issue. All of us should speak out against their inhumane treatment, regardless of political persuasion or ideological leanings.
The sad reality is that over 99 percent of U.S.-consumed meat comes from factory farms. Most Americans support this abhorrent system. My hope is that Judge Wilkinson’s words will ring in the ears of all factory-farm owners and investors, persuading them to end their abuse.
And to reinforce his message, each and every one of us can take a stand today – by abstaining from meat!